David Leadbetter Interview
David J Whyte catches up with legendary golf teacher David Leadbetter in sunny Southwest Florida.
David, here we are at the Ritz Carlton Members Club just outside Sarasota. You're a member here I believe and you now live in this area.
Yes, we moved here about 6 years ago. Before that we were in Orlando at Lake Nona. My junior golf academy was tied in with the IMG sport training complex in Bradenton just up the road so I've been coming down for almost twenty years. My two youngest children finished school here and went to the academy. We really enjoy this area.
You've had a great career, David. Looking back, can you identify a couple of things that really stand out? What are the highlights?
I was at the Masters last year and it was the 20th anniversary when Nick Faldo, (or Sir Nick Faldo as we have to call him now) won that tournament. I suppose helping Nick to win that and his 6 Majors in total really helped make my career.
On a more personal basis, another highlight was the 1994 Open Championship at Turnberry when my good friend and student Nick Price won. That was a tournament he really wanted to win! His parents were British and he had a huge attachment to the UK so he really had a great love of that event. It was thrilling to watch especially when he holed that monster putt at 17th - a lot of people remember that.
I have had the good fortunate to work with players that have collectively won 21 majors. In recent years I was working this young 'phenom' - Lydia Ko who is the youngest player of either gender to be ranked No. 1 in professional golf. She's doing some great things!
So, it's been a wonderful ride and I've enjoyed every moment of it. I'm a failed Tour player that did the next best thing, 'teach'! It certainly was the right choice for me!
I'm sure all your students will agree with that. So you were a tour player before you turned to teaching? What was it that made you decide to change course?
I actually never got on the tour. I went to qualifying school for the European Tour way-back-when at Foxhills Golf Club in Surrey near London. I thought "I'm going to give this a shot!" To cut a long story short, I had a 10-foot putt on the last hole at Foxhills - if I had knocked that putt in I would have got my card. I left it on the lip! I thought, "Somebody's trying to tell me something!"
I started my career as an assistant professional and was teaching to supplement my income so that I could play. Although I was born in the UK, I spent my formative years in Rhodesia (or Zimbabwe as it is now) and that's where I got to meet people like Nick Price and Mark McNulty. But looking back now, I didn't have the mental fortitude to be a tour player. If I knew then what I know now, I would have been a much better player. As we all know, it's not just a case of being able to strike the ball well. You've got to 'think' well too. For most would-be tour players in those days, it was hit or miss. Now they have sport psychologists and an entire entourage of specialists and that does make a difference.
I suppose I'm lucky in that I have played at a high level so I've experienced that route. Then, when it was clear I wasn't going to make it as a tour pro, I embraced teaching. It was just one of those things; it turned out it was natural for me and I really enjoyed it.
The fact is, I love to be able to help people and this is how I do it. To my way of thinking, teaching is having knowledge. But more than anything, it's about being able to communicate that knowledge. Writing books and doing videos through the years has become an expression of who I am.
When it comes to teaching golf, every case is different. If you go to a doctor with an illness, not every illness is the same and the doctor has to work it out. Fortunately in golf, our faults and problems are not life-threatening! Having said that, I have had people say to me, what I've done for them has changed their life. That's always been very gratifying.
That brings us to your new 'A Swing', the revolutionary method that's going to get us all hitting more consistent golf shots. Where did that come from?
I realised I hadn't brought out a book for 10 years and really wondered if I had anything new to say that was really going to help and captivate people. I got to thinking that this game is very difficult for most people. If I give a clinic to adult golfers for instance and ask them how many of you are satisfied with your game - you're doing well if you get one hand up. I wanted to bring something out which was a follow-on from what I've been doing through the years. It's not a departure; it's more of an evolution.
The A Swing stands for an 'alternative' swing. Essentially it is an alternative backswing that makes the downswing much easier. In other sports such as baseball or tennis where the ball is moving, you really don't focus that much on what you're doing in order to get the implement away. In golf it's all about how you get the golf club back and then deliver it back to the ball. It's all about being efficient in that movement and getting some consistency. For most people the backswing is very complicated! It's always been the 'wrecking-ball' to good, consistent golf. The 'A Swing' is purely about getting the club into the right position going back which then allows you to get the club in the right position coming down. It's as simple as that! Everyone used to laugh at the Jim Furyk swing but it was hugely effective and this is probably a minor version of what he does.
As far as the results, the book far exceeded my expectations. When it came out, it quickly reached the New York bestsellers list. It hasn't hurt either that young Lydia Ko was a big proponent of the approach. If you look at her swing during the time was working with her, it goes nicely up and comes down on the proper plane.
It's not a method, it's an approach. You can take little bits of it which fix a lot of players faults particularly in the backswing. It's also been a little controversial because people are generally very traditional and don't like changes. And yet interestingly enough, there's a lot of players, even the great Jack Nicklaus who swung in a very similar way. If you look at Jack Nicklaus' swing it was fairly upright. What we're trying to achieve in the A Swing is to get the club fairly upright but your arms are nicely connected to your body so there's not a lot of wasted movement. It's quite compact
The A Swing really is helping senior golfers; it's helped young players who get out of sync when their bodies go and their arms just can't catch up. We're implementing it in our golf schools right around the world and right across the board it's being received very well. If you want to play your A game, find your A Swing. Go to my website (www.davidleadbetter.com) and look at some of the testimonials.
Since reviewing the book when it first came out, I've been using the A Swing. I feel like I'm halfway there though. Something's not quite right! I keep fading the ball a little too much.
In golf, what you feel you do and what you actually do are often two different things. When you bring a book out, you never know how people will interpret it, what meaning they are going to get from what I've written. It could mean two completely different things to two different people. What I would wish is that could spend five minutes with everyone and say you've got that right or you've got that wrong. We'll have to have a look at you, David and see if we can get you on the right track.
Great, I'd love that. So what's coming up next, David?
We're opening a number of academies around the world. I just do my thing and still really enjoy it. I have a big mix of players, tour players and high handicap amateurs. We've got a big project in China right now where we hooked up with a company called 'Run Golf' doing lots of stuff aimed at juniors. If you get 1% of the Chinese population playing golf it would be pretty amazing. We’ve just opened academies in India and Bangladesh, and we're opening a lot of new indoor facilities... that is the big thing in Asia right now where people can play on simulators and take lessons.
Look, my goal is to help promote the game around the world. It is a game that means so much to so many people. I always say when people are playing good golf their mood is better, their whole attitude towards life is better. So if I can help in some small form or shape...
What about yourself David. Do you ever get out and play just for the fun of it?
Yeah, I get out and knock it around. All my children play. My son teaches for us in China. My two youngest kids are really good players. My family is sort of ensconced in golf as my wife played on the LPGA Tour. She won the French Open a number of years ago. I still get out an knock it around. It's not serious these days - when you hit a bad shot it's still... 'Argh'!
We are all but human. David, thank you so much for your time today and I look forward to catching up with you soon and see if you can sort my A Swing.